If Christianity cannot recover and teach its mystical tradition, it should simply fold up and go out of business. – Dom Bede Griffiths, OSB
C - Create space to explore [our calling] together;
A - Ask self-awakening questions together;
R - Reflect theologically on self and community; and
E - Enact the next faithful step.
VocationCARE, or the CARE practices, offer a unique blend of contemplative practice, deep conversation, and design and strategy lenses for constructing new ministries and mission renewal for churches. The CARE practices are intended to cultivate a unified consciousness (both/and, contemplative/active), capitalizing on the gift of our Baptism - “having the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2: 16b). The CARE practices engage this mind, which is never solely an individual possession but belongs to all of us together, and is alive for the life of the world. This Christ consciousness keeps the church from becoming insular and detached – not least because the same needs and longings of the world exist within the Body of Christ. Engaging a system of encounter with our greatest longings, we become introduced to the longings of the human family – and equipped to care for them.
Fundamentally, VocationCARE is intended for addressing what is so evidently a crisis of meaning in modern life, afflicting many inside and outside of the church. Christians may actually be called to share existentially in the psychological experience of the absence of God.1 At the very least, they are called to be companions of hope to those familiar with this experience, to be identified with the longings of others for a deep spiritual connection and to be candid about their own need for the deeper, more constant connection that authentic spiritual community allows. The only way to raise the “Lazarus” of our society/our church is not to remain aloof from the tombs where he/she waits for the Christ in us to call him/her forth. VocationCARE is intent on availability to the bright and the barren spots of our lives; they are both grist for the Kingdom of God.
The CARE practices initially involve what may be called a contemplative prelude, the necessary deep work we engage before the other deep work of enacting our call in the world. Practicing VocationCARE enables a naming of the passion and deep motivation that lives within us- that is Christ’s call to us. The earlier practices of Testimony and Holy Listening, under the rubric of “creating a space,” condition us to listen deeply to our lives and the lives of those who practice with us. We engage a deep contemplative space because a necessary stillness allows us to hear most clearly the voice of the Spirit or, as Howard Thurman refers to it, the sound of the genuine.
Thomas Keating states, “God’s first language is silence,” but we often forget that first language because we are over-directed by the impulse to accomplish or to be productive, or to have an answer to our dilemmas, that we have lost the taste for slowing down and entering a space of deep stillness. Once we have made regular contact with this space, however, we recognize it as a home-space, like gaining contact with an obscure internal organ with which we had lost touch. That internal organ is the heart, the seat of Christian spiritual practice.
VocationCARE is intent on cultivating heart-space for the challenging work of ministry. Without this kind of inner work, we are only half-formed in our intent to live a life that is fully alive or transformative. Also, with this inner work, we are more easily in touch with the Holy Spirit as a constant companion to our inspirations for ministry and for joining with others to change the world. Our stranger notions of ministry – that it is an engagement of projects that God is supposed (magically) to back up – 2 fall by the wayside as we are led to engage the God of infinite love and compassion, the God that is ever new, going ahead of us, and asking us to follow. The CARE practices outline a deeply mystical path – which path always pivots on a turn toward the world.
The other gift of VocationCARE is the company it brings. You are not engaging this heart-space alone. The company of others with their manifold personalities, gifts, thoughts, questions, and restless longings are precisely the company that God has intended for you. They are those who help to finish our intention to be available for the work of transformation – the necessary inner transformation that makes all outward transformation possible. You and others in your group make a piece of that grand mosaic, which is the face of Christ, turned toward the world.
You practice VocationCARE in the company of others because, while it is important to have clarity about who you are and what your gifts are, you can never quite authentically engage that search (or the enactment of those gifts) without the company of others. VocationCARE’s reflective and visioning practices are an effective doorway toward seeing “that thing we are given to do by God,” now, in this time.
The CARE practices will also guide you in the season of mission or ministry enactment; they serve as a contemplative ray of light on your work as it opens for you – providing a power for ongoing discernment as a process parallel to the enactment of any ministry.
1 Crisis of Faith, Crisis of Love, p. 101; Thomas Keating, Continuum, © 2002, New York.
2 From Intimacy with God by Thomas Keating, p. 7; © 2009, the Crossroads Publishing Co., New York.